11. The Story about the Elder Nun Bhaddā Kaccānā


This is the story of the nun Bhaddā Kaccānā, also known as Rāhulamātā, Bimbā, Yasodharā, Gopī and other names, who had previously been Siddhattha’s wife. The story about her runs somewhat contrary to the preceeding story, as she is said to be one of just four disciples who could recollect an uncountable period and one hundred thousand aeons, far exceeding the others in this facility; they are Vens. Sāriputta, Moggallāna, Bakkula, and Bhaddā Kaccānā.

Yet above Bhaddā Kāpilānī has just been placed as foremost amongst those who recollect their former lives. How we resolve this problem is not sure. I tend to think that the position given to Bhaddā Kāpilānī is probably mistaken, as her story gives no indication that would be the position she would hold. Except for the aspiration recorded before Buddha Padumuttara, which would be part of the textual misidentification.

However, the story surrounding Bhaddā Kaccānā also gives no real background for her attainment either, simply stating she aspired for it, and that she became famous for having acquired it, and later was appointed to the position.

In the Traditions neither her aspiration, not her appointment to this position, are mentioned, and her main accomplishment seems to have been as being the Bodhisatta’s wife in many lives. But then again, given the identification of this nun with Siddhattha’s wife, it seems odd that none of the literally dozens of past life stories that were known about her are included here; indeed, apart from her life at the time she made the aspiration no other lives but her last one are mentioned.

Eventually in the late Medieval period a whole cycle of stories seem to have grown up about her, as can be seen in the Therī-Apadānadīpanī, Effectively the last commentary ever written on one of the Tipiṭaka books. It was written by Bhaddanta Kumārābhivaṁsa in the 1960s, but first published in 1992 in Burmese script, and then in 2009 in Romanised script. For materials translated from Sinhala based on traditional works, see Ranjini Obeyesekere: Yasodharā, the Wife of the Bōdhisattva, SUNY, New York, 2009. where her story far exceeds in length that of any other of the Elder Nuns.

One other problem that requires mentioning is that there is no one amongst the male disciples who is mentioned as having this position. Bakkula, who is mentioned in the story as also having this quality of recall, is only placed foremost amongst those with little ill-health in the stories of the male disciples, and this position is not mentioned there.

AN 1.5.11

Etad-aggaṁ bhikkhave mama sāvikānaṁ bhikkhunīnaṁ
This is the foremost of my nun disciples, monastics,

mahābhiññappattānaṁ, yad-idaṁ Bhaddā Kaccānā. ChS: Bhaddakaccānā.
amongst those who have attained very deep knowledge, that is to say, Bhaddā Kaccānā.

AA 1.5.11

Ekādasame, “Mahābhiññappattānan,”-ti RTE: Mahābhiññāppatt-, and similarly throughout.
In the eleventh (story), “Amongst those who have attained very deep knowledge,”

mahatiyo abhiññāyo SHB, PTS: abhiññā. pattānaṁ, Bhaddā Kaccānā, nāma SHB, PTS omit: nāma. aggā ti dasseti.
it shows why the Elder Nun Bhaddā Kaccānā, amongst those who had very deep knowledge, was said to be foremost.

Ekassa hi SHB, PTS: pi. Buddhassa cattāro va janā mahābhiññā honti, na avasesasāvakā.
For one Buddha there are four people who have very deep knowledge, and not the rest of the disciples.

Avasesasāvakā hi kappasatasahassam-eva anussarituṁ sakkonti, na tato paraṁ.
Other disciples may be able to recall one hundred thousand aeons, but not more than that. The six powers (chaḷabhiññā) of the later texts are magical power (iddhividha), the divine ear (dibbasota), knowledge of others’ minds (cetopariyañāṇa), recollection of former lives (pubbenivāsānussati), the divine eye (dibbacakkhu) and the extinction of the pollutants (āsavakkhaya). Here the distinguishing feature seems to be her ability to recall more lives than others. But if that was so, why was Bhaddā Kāpilāni named as the disciple who excelled in that ability.

Mahābhiññappattā pana kappasatasahassādhikaṁ asaṅkhyeyyaṁ anussaranti.
For those who have attained very deep knowledge they recall (at least) an uncountable (length of time) and one hundred thousand aeons.

Amhākam-pi Satthu Sāsane dve Aggasāvakā Bakkulathero RTE, ChS: Bākulatthero. Bhaddā Kaccānā ti:
In our Teacher’s dispensation they were the two Great Disciples, Vens. Sāriputta and Moggallāna. the Elder Bakkula and Bhaddā Kaccānā:

ime cattāro ettakaṁ anussarituṁ sakkhiṁsu. RTE: asakkhiṁsu.
these four were able to recall this much.

Tasmā ayaṁ Therī mahābhiññappattānaṁ aggā nāma jātā.
Therefore this Elder Nun became known as foremost amongst those who had attained very deep knowledge.

Bhaddā Kaccānā ti tassā nāmaṁ.
Bhaddā Kaccānā is her name.

Bhaddakañcanassa RTE: Bhaddakaccanassa; RTE, PTS add: viya. hi uttamasuvaṇṇassa viya RTE: viya ca. tassā sarīravaṇṇo ahosi,
Her skin-colour was like the finest gold, indeed, like the most auspicious gold,

sā tasmā Bhaddakañcanā ti nāmaṁ labhi,
therefore she received the name Bhaddakañcanā (Auspicious Golden One),

sā pacchā Kaccānā tveva saṅkhaṁ gatā. RTE replaces these two lines with: tasmā Bhaddākaccānātveva saṅkhaṁ gatā.
and later the name Kaccānā came.

Rāhulamātāyetaṁ adhivacanaṁ.
She was also designated Rāhulamātā (Rāhula’s Mother).

Her Aspiration and Good Deeds

Sā hi RTE: Sā pi. Padumuttarabuddhakāle,
At the time of the Buddha Padumuttara,

Haṁsavatiyaṁ kulagehe paṭisandhiṁ gahetvā,
she was conceived in a good family home in Haṁsavatī,

aparabhāge Satthu Dhammakathaṁ suṇantī,
and later, while listening to the Teacher talk about Dhamma,

Satthāraṁ ekaṁ bhikkhuniṁ mahābhiññappattānaṁ aggaṭṭhāne ṭhapentaṁ disvā,
seeing the Teacher place a certain nun as being foremost amongst those who had attained very deep knowledge,

adhikārakammaṁ katvā PTS omits: adhikārakammaṁ katvā. taṁ ṭhānantaraṁ patthesi.
she did a great deed and aspired for that position herself.

Her Last Life

Sā kappasatasahassaṁ devamanussesu saṁsaritvā,
After being reborn amongst gods and humans (only) for one hundred thousand aeons,

imasmiṁ Buddhuppāde,
when this (Gotama) Buddha arose,

Suppabuddhasakkassa RTE: Suppabuddhassa. gehe paṭisandhiṁ gaṇhi,
she was conceived in the Sakyan Suppabuddha’s home, Making her a cousin of Siddhattha.

Bhaddā Kaccānā tissā nāmaṁ akaṁsu.
and they made the name Bhaddā Kaccānā for her.

Sā vayappattā Bodhisattassa gehaṁ agamāsi.
When she had reached maturity she went to the Buddha-to-be’s home. I.e. she married Siddhattha.

SHB, PTS omit: . aparabhāge Rāhulakumāraṁ nāma puttaṁ vijāyi.
Later she gave birth to a son, the prince Rāhula.

Tassa jātadivase va RTE omits: va. Bodhisatto nikkhamitvā,
The Buddha-to-be, after renouncing on the day (Rāhula) was born,

Bodhimaṇḍe sabbaññutaṁ patvā,
and attaining omniscience within the circle of the Bodhi Tree,

lokānuggahaṁ karonto, anupubbena Kapilavatthuṁ āgamma,
while bringing relief to the world, gradually came to Kapilavatthu,

ñātīnaṁ saṅgahaṁ akāsi.
and gave assistance to his relatives.

Aparabhāge, parinibbute Suddhodanamahārāje,
Later, when the Great King Suddhodana attained Nibbāna,

Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī SHB, ChS: Mahāpajāpatigotamī. pañcahi mātugāmasatehi saddhiṁ Satthu santike pabbaji.
Mahāpajāpatī Gotamī, together with five hundred women, went forth in the presence of the Teacher.

Rāhulamātā pi Janapadakalyāṇī pi Theriyā santikaṁ gantvā, pabbaji.
Rāhula’s Mother and Janapadakalyāṇī, I.e. Nandā. after going into the presence of the Elder Nun, also went forth.

Sā pabbajitakālato paṭṭhāya Bhaddā Kaccānatherī SHB: Bhadda-; ChS: -ttherī. tveva pākaṭā ahosi.
Beginning from that time she became well-known as the Elder Nun, Bhaddā Kaccānā.

SHB omits: ; PTS: Atha. aparabhāge vipassanaṁ vaḍḍhetvā, Arahattaṁ patvā, SHB: pattā.
Later, having developed insight, and attained Liberation,

abhiññāsu ciṇṇavasī ahosi, ekapallaṅke ChS: ekapallaṅkena. nisinnā,
she mastered the deep knowledges, during a single sitting in cross-legged position,

ekāvajjanena, kappasatasahassādhikaṁ RTE adds: ekaṁ. asaṅkhyeyyaṁ anussarati,
with one advertence, she recalled (at least) an uncountable (length of time) and one hundred thousand aeons,

tassā tasmiṁ guṇe pākaṭe jāte.
and she became well-known as having this virtue.

Satthā Jetavane nisinno SHB, PTS: nisitvā. bhikkhuniyo paṭipāṭiyā ṭhānantaresu PTS, ChS: ṭhānantare. ṭhapento,
As the Teacher was sitting in Jeta’s Wood and assigning the places of the nuns in order,

imaṁ Theriṁ mahābhiññappattānaṁ aggaṭṭhāne ṭhapesī ti.
he placed this Elder Nun in the foremost position amongst those who had very deep knowledge.



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